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Music review: Lewis' Sun sessions shine on essential CD release

Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 12:26 a.m.
 

‘The Essential Jerry Lee Lewis: The Sun Sessions'

Jerry Lee Lewis (Legacy)

★★★★½

Even though his well-deserved reputation as a loose cannon (they don't call him the Killer for nothing, folks) often threatened to overshadow his music, there's no disputing the impact Jerry Lee Lewis had on the early days of rock ‘n' roll. Armed with his trusty piano and devil-may-care attitude, Lewis, now 77, is a living legend. “The Essential Jerry Lee Lewis: The Sun Sessions” is a two-disc, 40-track collection of his best moments for Sun, the quintessential record label of the 1950s and early '60s. All of the signature tunes are here — “Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Breathless,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Wild One (Real Wild Child)” — plus dozens more. This is a must for fans of rock's formative years.

‘The Essential Andy Williams'

Andy Williams (Columbia Legacy)

★★★★

One of the preeminent vocalists of all time, Andy Williams left behind quite a legacy when he died last September at the age of 83. His career peaked in the 1960s and early '70s, but he continued to perform at his own theater in Branson, Mo., well into his 80s. “The Essential Andy Williams” compiles 36 of his best songs over two discs. Hits like “Butterfly,” “Are You Sincere” and “Lonely Street” launched his career in the late 1950s and he became a bona fide star on the strength of movie themes like “Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany's” and “(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story” from the all-time tearjerker “Love Story.” All those songs are here, as are velvety renditions of classics like “Born Free,” “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” “Can't Help Falling in Love” and “Days of Wine and Roses.”

‘The Essential Nilsson'

Harry Nilsson (RCA Legacy)

★★★★½

Despite a career that earned him great acclaim and a boatload of hit singles in the 1960s and '70s, I still view Harry Nilsson as one of the tragic figures of popular music. He could have — and arguably should have — been a much bigger star, but alcohol abuse and ultimately an ill-fated friendship with the great John Lennon helped derail his career. Nilsson was 53 when he died of a heart attack in 1994. “The Essential Nilsson” is a nice showcase of the music that still resonates today. The two-CD, 40-track set spans his entire career and includes signature songs like “1941,” his jaw-dropping Beatles medley “You Can't Do That,” “Everybody's Talkin',” “One,” “Coconut,” “Without You” and “I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City.” We'll never know what might have been for Harry Nilsson, but “Essential” is a great chronicle of what was.

‘The Essential Johnny Winter'

Johnny Winter (Columbia Legacy)

★★★★

Texas native Johnny Winter has been a fixture on the blues-rock scene since the late 1960s and showed in 2011's fantastic “Roots” that he remains a relevant performer even as his 70th birthday rapidly approaches. “The Essential Johnny Winter” puts together 34 of his best songs on two discs and is a must for fans of modern electric blues. Whether stomping through original compositions “I'm Yours and I'm Hers,” “Dallas,” “Hustled Down in Texas” and “Mean Town Blues,” or delivering stellar covers of “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” “Mama, Talk to Your Daughter” and “Bony Maronie,” Winter is one of the greats.

‘Side Effects of You'

Fantasia (19/RCA)

★★★★

Season 3 “American Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino hasn't had the same success as that season's seventh-place finisher, Jennifer Hudson, but the 28-year-old North Carolina native has carved out an impressive career with a string of steadily-improving albums. Fourth full-length “Side Effects of You” is her best effort to date, with Fantasia having co-written seven of the 12 songs. Her voice remains her best asset and she puts it to use on a series of keepers that include “Ain't All Bad,” the title track, “Change Your Mind,” the Commodores sampling “Lose to Win” and “End of Me.” Good stuff.

‘More Than Just a Dream'

Fitz & the Tantrums (Elektra)

★★★½

Fitz & the Tantrums exploded onto the scene in 2010 with “Pickin' Up the Pieces,” a flawless gathering of vintage soul tunes that remains in heavy rotation on my iPod. They shift gears a bit on third full-length “More Than Just a Dream” and it took me a while to warm to the new dance-pop approach. Vocalists Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs still dominate the proceedings and though I prefer the old-school approach of their last album, this 12-track release is a grower. While there's nothing as memorable as “MoneyGrabber” here, the band scores with “Break the Walls,” “6am,” “House on Fire” and “The End.” And give them credit for trying something new.

‘System and Station'

System and Station (self-released)

★★★½

Thirteen years and 10 albums into its career, Oregon-based indie rock band System and Station is still trying to capture the nation's fancy. It flirted with breakthrough success on 2004's “If You Find Me Let Me Know” and 2006's “Here Is Now,” but hasn't been able to take the next step. This rock-solid self-titled release should please its fans, though I don't know if it's going to kick the door open for wider acclaim. Standouts include “Turned Guns,” “Fools,” “Saturday Night Friends,” “I Met the Devil and the Devil Was You” and “Fly Us to the Moon.” Rock on.

Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1952, or jsisk@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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